Martino inks 2-year contract as Barca’s new coach
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Moments after completing his deal to coach Barcelona for the next two seasons on Friday, Gerardo Martino assured fans that he had come to maintain the winning style established by successors Tito Vilanova and Pep Guardiola.
Barcelona announced Tuesday that the Argentine coach would take over for Vilanova, who stepped down last week to proceed with a cancer treatment that was “incompatible” with his coaching duties.
The 50-year-old Martino has never coached in Europe before, and after five trophy-laden seasons with coaches who had come up through the club’s youth programs, his signing represents a break from the line of selecting in-house managers.
Martino said that he would tweak the team he has inherited, looking to improve on something that was already working well.
“I will try to combine both things, keeping with the style of the club and the style the players are comfortable playing in, but logically while trying to add my own part to make a more complete team,” Martino said. “There are excellent players here and if we can go back to the ideas of the great moments of Barcelona we will do well.”
Martino will travel later Friday to Oslo, where Barcelona is getting ready to play a friendly against Valerenga on Saturday. The Spanish league is set to begin on Aug. 17-18.
He will have a tough act to follow.
Vilanova led Barcelona to the Spanish league title last season and helped Guardiola guide it to an unprecedented 14 of a possible 19 titles as his assistant from 2008-12.
In his favor, Martino will receive a star-studded squad with Lionel Messi, several Spanish internationals such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas, and the club’s latest major signing, Brazil striker Neymar.
But his chances for success may largely depend on how well he can convince this diverse collection of players used to winning, and winning in the Barcelona way of attacking football, that he is the right man to carry the team through this unexpected transition.
While Barcelona won its fourth Spanish league title in five years last season, it lost its place as Europe’s best team after Bayern Munich crushed it 7-0 over two legs of the Champions League semifinals.
Martino thinks he can put Barcelona back on top.
“Even for a club like Barcelona that has reached such a high level of excellence, it can also get better and needs to in order to sustain a high level of winning,” Martino said. “Above all, we want to recover Barcelona’s ability to pressure high up the pitch. We want a Barcelona comfortable in attack and defending far from its own area.”
While not going into many details about a group of players he has yet to meet, Martino said that he plans to keep using Messi as Barcelona’s central forward, “where he has exploded in recent years.”
Martino considered it “normal” that he was relatively unknown in Europe. His greatest coaching achievements are leading Newell’s Old Boys to the Argentine league title last season and Paraguay to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 2010.
He has already received the backing of Messi.
“He (is) a great coach and his record speaks for itself. He showed he could do things well both at Newell’s and with Paraguay,” Messi said. “I am convinced he will do well at Barca.”
Messi played for Newell’s in his home town of Rosario as a young boy before his move to Spain to join Barcelona’s “La Masia” training academy. The four-time world player of the year has been Martino’s most vocal supporter so far, even though they don’t know each other personally.
Martino, who has the nickname “Tata,” led Newell’s to its first league title in nine years last in June, achieving a remarkable turnaround for a side that had fought off relegation the season before. He coached Paraguay from 2007-11.
As a player, Martino was a midfielder from 1980-1996, including a short spell in 1991 at Spanish club Tenerife in the Canary Islands.